30625 fight for zipcode escalates
story by Jessica Blomquist • file photo by Angelina Bellebuono • illustration by Chris Howe
In the red corner, with a population of 84,000 and coming in at 28 square miles, is the community of Buckhead in Atlanta. And in the blue corner, the alleged underdog, with a population of 205 and a total area of 0.8 square miles, is the town of Buckhead, located in Morgan County.
Who will ultimately hold the title of Buckhead?
The community of Buckhead in Atlanta, led by the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, wishes to secede from Atlanta and become a city. Sam Massell, previous mayor of Atlanta and president of the Buckhead Coalition, a 20-year-old non-profit civic group, is not a supporter of the plan.
“It comes on and off every so often over the years,” Massell said. “It’s not a new idea.” Massell believes that if Buckhead becomes a city, it will be to the detriment of the city of Atlanta. “It’s ill-conceived,” Massell said.
All of Atlanta’s statistics would be worse if Buckhead’s were taken from the equation. Without the addition of Buckhead’s positive statistics, Atlanta’s statistics would fall. Crime rate, pollution, unemployment and lack of education statistics would all increase without the inclusion of Buckhead’s stats. And if the statistics reflect that negatively on Atlanta, growth and immigration to the city would decrease dramatically because no one would want to move to a city with such poor statistics.
“If you take the cream off the top of the milk, what you have left isn’t sweet,” said Massell.
Another problem with the proposed secession is that Buckhead pays 45 percent of Atlanta’s taxes. Without that financial support, the city of Atlanta would potentially be bankrupt. The plan for Buckhead to become a city is headed by president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, John Sherman. Massell says word on the street is that Sherman plans to run for mayor of Buckhead should it become a city.
“One Sherman tried to burn Atlanta,” said Massell. “This one wants to run it.”
One hitch in the plan for cityhood is the existence of the town of Buckhead. Sherman reportedly did not know of the town’s existence. “That was a bit embarrassing for him, I think,” said Massell, who has visited the town of Buckhead several times and is a member of the Steffen Thomas museum. Overall, Massell believes that being part of the whole is best.
“You can’t isolate yourself,” he said. “I think people need to work together.” He also has no worries that the plan for cityhood will come to fruition. “There’s no way that this Buckhead will become a different city,” he said. “If it did, it would have to have a new name.”
Sherman is advocating the cityhood of Buckhead because he said the citizens are fed up with taxes and fees. “The taxes and fees of Atlanta have gotten out of hand,” he said. “They’re unaffordable to the middle class.” Water and garbage pickup fees are also too high, said Sherman.
The petition to make Buckhead a city has already received 10,000 signatures, though the plan for cityhood would have to be approved by the General Assembly and then by a referendum of voters in Fulton County for the community to first secede from Atlanta and then become a city.
When asked about the possible hindrance of an already existing Buckhead, Sherman said, “If it has a population that small, it’s not a city.” But according to the Georgia Constitution, it doesn’t matter that Buckhead is classified as a town. O.C.G.A. 36-30-1 states that “wherever the words ‘city,’ ‘town,’ ‘municipality,’ or ‘village’ appear in the statutory laws of this state, such words shall be construed as synonymous,” and that “such words shall be held to mean a municipal corporation as defined by statutory law and judicial interpretation.”
Therefore, the state of Georgia cannot have two municipalities with the same name. Ricky Walker, mayor of the town of Buckhead, said that according to paperwork, the town became incorporated in 1908, though previous paperwork which was destroyed in a fire is believed to prove that the town has been around for about 200 years. Years ago, Buckhead was a thriving little metropolis, said Walker, though it has always been an agricultural town.
Walker said that many do not realize that Buckhead was considered for the capital of Georgia before it was located in Milledgeville and long before it became Atlanta. Buckhead has its own fire department, water and garbage service and a mayor and town council. And probably most importantly, it’s own zip code: 30625. “Buckhead’s been around a long time,” said Walker. “We’re not gonna give up our zip code. They need to change their name.”